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Hill files anti-protest, anti-abortion bills

Nathan Baker • Updated Feb 12, 2017 at 5:14 PM

Two bills filed last week by state Rep. Matthew Hill aim to steer Tennessee toward the conservative end of the political spectrum on certain social issues.

Hill, R-Jonesborough, made sure to specify that his bill granting civil immunity to drivers exercising due care who may injure protesters blocking public roadways, does not mean drivers are free from criminal charges.

The short bill, if enacted, means protesters blocking traffic cannot sue drivers for damages, but stipulates that drivers who intentionally or carelessly injure protesters are not safe from civil action.

“We’re not talking about peaceful protests here,” Hill said Thursday. “We’re talking about lawless rioting in the middle of the street, and there is a difference. The Women’s March in Jonesborough a couple of weekends ago, that’s a peaceful protest, but the students standing in the road here on Broadway (in Nashville) after the election, that’s rioting.”

Hill also classified a protest in Phoenix, Arizona, last week as a riot. Activists there attempted to block a van carrying Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos from leaving an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility as she was on her way to be deported.

As protests continue in the United States against many of President Donald Trump’s executive orders and memorandums, lawmakers in multiple states have introduced legislation seeking to restrict them.

Some, like Hill’s, are aimed at protesters blocking traffic, but unlike Hill’s, some of those seek to decriminalize striking and injuring protesters with vehicles. Some bills seek to criminalize protesting or increase penalties levied on protesters.

In Virginia last month, a bill to add jail time to the current penalties for failing to disperse when police deem a protest an “unlawful assembly” was narrowly defeated on the Senate floor when some Republicans changed their minds on the bill during floor debate.

Hill’s second bill would require physicians performing abortions after the 20th week of gestation to first assess and certify the fetus is not viable, an important benchmark set in court precedent.

If the doctor can’t reasonably assure the fetus is not viable, performing an abortion would be illegal.

In the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, the court ruled states could not put the interests of a fetus before that of a woman’s health until the fetus was viable, that is until it could survive on its own. The court set that point according to medical wisdom of the time, at 24 to 28 weeks, but allowed a case-by-case assessment of viability, according to the pregnant woman’s doctor.

Because of medical advances, many doctors now believe fetuses can be viable at 23 weeks, and many hospitals won’t perform abortions after the 22nd week of gestation.

In drafting the bill, Hill said he discussed the wording with a constitutional attorney.

“The Supreme Court ruled viability at 24 weeks, but I think current, modern-day science can dispute that,” he said. “The current court holding it at 24, that doesn’t mean we have to agree with that.

“This bill is putting the onus on the doctor to run assessments on the baby to determine viability, and, if a baby is viable, he cannot abort it.”

A 20-week ban would likely not pass Supreme Court muster, but a test for viability may, Hill believes.

Hill’s bill include exceptions for medical emergencies threatening the life of the mother.

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